Posted on 2022-01-06
Once again, Reginald De Courcy would have been much happier had he remained at Churchill during Christmastide rather than London. Once more, he would be caught in the machinations of Lady Susan Martin née Vernon, his odious mother-in-law.
But fortunately for him, and unlike the year previous, he would not face these trials alone, for Mrs. Frederica De Courcy née Vernon accompanied him to the theatre on the fateful night in question.
It was for his wife's sake that Reginald had procured them a box for a Twelfth Night performance of Susanna : Frederica was so fond of music, and the oratorio would feature some of the city's finest singers. Her reaction when he gifted her the tickets was everything that could be wished. By the time they had journeyed to town, shopped, and supped, Mrs. De Courcy was in a state of high anticipation.
As the curtain closed on Act I, the couple applauded enthusiastically, exchanging joyful smiles at their united pleasure. The advantages of a box, and the privacy it afford a couple married less than four months, were felt as well.
The trouble started during the next act's trio, as Frederica developed a cough, which Reginald at once offered to relieve with a cool drink. The next unlucky event was his finding no attendant readily available, so that he travelled the length of the hall to signal one, exposing him to the view of an old friend lounging about. He at last was able to disentangle himself by referencing his wife's somewhat exaggerated infirmity, and was astonished on turning round to find himself face to face with her mother.
"Why, my dear Reginald, whatever are you doing here?"
"Attending to the arts, as I see you are as well," was his ready answer as a glance confirmed they were unluckily quite alone.
"True! How I miss our chats: you had a very good ear when we were last in town together."
"You are overgenerous; and I must beg pardon for not stopping now, as I do not wish to miss the next scene."
"The gallery is unendurable at this time: hot and noisome, as usual. I trust you are better situated to enjoy the performance?"
"Yes." His escape was hindered by the narrow passage and her wide skirts, as well as the fan she wielded at his every attempt to manoeuvrer past.
"May I join you? I only ask for a brief respite, as I grow quite faint." Here she leaned to one side. He instinctively offered a hand and immediately regretted falling for so obvious a ruse. Worse, the attendant chose that exact moment to return, and when he would have sent the man on ahead, Lady Susan begged a drink, depending on the generosity of her "beloved son."
Reginald flinched at this description just as the chorus could be heard bringing the second act to a close and soon the previously empty corridor was full. Distracted, he forgot his fencing master's admonition to always watch his flank, and thus was unprepared when Lady Susan sidled closer to whisper, "I see you are still capable of surprises, for is that not Frederica coming toward us?"
It was a disaster, an utter disaster! for there was his poor wife, and he caught in a most damning tableau, the wine meant for her consumed and the arm owed to her taken. Mrs. De Courcy was plainly startled; her features assumed the same timid, haunted expression which had predominated on their first acquaintance, one Reginald had vowed to banish at their nuptials and was instead inspiring all over again. To shake Lady Susan off would only draw more attention, and any protests imply he indeed had something to hide. Mortification and anger transfixed him, and like a year ago he wished to turn back time and not act such a benighted fool!
Salvation then came in the most unlikely of forms.
"Here you are, dear me, what a wretched time I have had wandering about this drafty maze of a place!" Sir James Martin stumbled into their vicinity, blinked in recognition, smiled warmly and shook hands all around ("I never can recall, Reginald, am I your father or brother by marriage? Or twice removed, since Frederica was once engaged to me?") then asked rather innocently, "Whatever were you both doing in this little hidehole?"
Having slipped Lady Susan's grasp during the sharing of pleasantries (a duty enjoyed by only one member of this impromptu quartet), Reginald stepped with firm purpose to his cherished lady's side. "I was searching for relief for Mrs. De Courcy; dearest, I am very sorry not to have attended you sooner, having been delayed most unwillingly ." There was some steel in his tone, but he refused to glance even once at the dulcet eyes behind him, which were themselves occupied with a flinty stare at her husband's interruption.
Frederica at first refused to answer, too occupied considering the floor to notice these ocularly engagements. With the boldness of a husband and the longer experience of a flirt, Reginald lifted her chin with one hand, while using the other to bring gloved fingers to his lips, saying sotto voce , "I hope you enjoyed the last recitative, 'Hence let me speed to Babylon's proud walls, / There danger threatens and Susanna calls.'"
He spoke in German, which their audience was completely ignorant of, while Frederica answered with a shy smile in the same language, "Yes, but I would welcome company for the next."
"Amen." Tipping a half bow to the Martins, Reginald bid them a hearty, " Adieu ," and the young lovers fled into the crowd before retreating to their box, undisturbed by anyone else for the remainder of the night.
The entertainment had been sublime. "Only, in the future, perhaps we should write to discover my mother's whereabouts first," was Frederica's only reference to their brief dramatic interlude. So easily and wonderfully was Lady Susan dismissed from the remainder of the hours shared before their departure next morning.
A virtuous wife shall soften fortune's frown,
She's far more precious than a golden crown.